Many people know that Acadia National Park celebrated its centennial in 2016, but few realize that it was 110 years ago this month that Eliza Homans of Boston provided a stunning donation of land that helped launch the creation of the park.
In May 1908, Homans, then a longtime seasonal resident of Mount Desert Island, deeded the first large gift of acreage to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, the forerunner of the national monument and park, according to “Creating Acadia National Park: The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr” by Ronald H. Epp.
A modest Homans wanted to remain anonymous as the donor of the 140 acres or so. She deeded the land with basically no strings attached and the properties included the south side of 1,058-foot Champlain Mountain (then Newport), the 7th highest peak in the park; and the Bowl, a glacial pond between Champlain and the 520-foot Beehive, the park’s 25th highest peak. The land was next to the Beehive, a vital landmark for 19th-century painters like Thomas Cole who put Mount Desert on the national map.
The gift from Homans was accepted by two Acadia icons: Dorr and Charles W. Eliot, a summer resident of the island and president of Harvard who proposed creation of the trustees.
Both saw it as a springboard for further land protection.
“By accepting this gift to the Hancock County Trustees, Eliot and Dorr had acted not merely as agents of opportunity,” Epp writes. “Each realized the promotional value of such gifts.”
Eliza Homans close to Dorr, Eliot
Each also had long ties to Homans, whose father was Rev. Samuel Kirkland Lothrop, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Dover, NH, and later Old Brattle Street Church in Boston, where Homans grew up.
Homans was close to Eliot. Her brother also had bought property with Dorr’s father on Frenchman Bay and eventually sold him the property, allowing formation of Dorr’s Old Farm estate, with some remains still existing in Compass Harbor.
According to the book “Historic Acadia National Park,” by Catherine Schmitt, Homans did stipulate some minor provisions including that she keep the right to shoot, fish and boat on the Bowl. (NOTE: Please see sidebar about Amazon.com links)
Before donation of the property, Homans and Eliot also had in common some intense feelings of loss. Homans’s husband, Charles, had died at 60 and her two children had also died in the early 1900s, Schmitt writes. Eliot’s first wife had died young and his son had died at 37.
After Eliza Homans’s death, Dorr, the park’s first superintendent, later had Homans Path built to memorialize the family.
Homans Path starts in the Sieur de Monts area and ascends to the top of 1,270 foot Dorr Mountain, the third highest peak, (old Flying Squadron) via other trails.
Homans is noted for its spiraling stone stairs and a large lintel stone spanning a narrow opening between rock walls.
If you hike the path and enjoy the sweeping views of the Great Meadow and Frenchman Bay, maybe take some time to think about the woman whose land gift helped ignite the effort to establish the park.
See our blog post about hiking the Compass Harbor Trail, which includes the land that Eliza Homans’s brother bought with George B. Dorr’s father, and which subsequently became the Old Farm estate.